Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday in a clear show of support for the war-ravaged nation.
The six-member group that mixes traditional folk melodies and contemporary hip hop in a deliberate defense of Ukrainian culture was the favorite of sentimentalists and bookmakers among the 25 bands and artists competing in the grand finale. The public vote at home was decisive in ensuring their victory.
Oleg Psiuk, the band’s frontman, took advantage of the huge global audience to make an impassioned appeal to the free fighters still trapped under a sprawling steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol after the band’s performance.
“I’m asking all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, now,” Psiuk told the live crowd of some 7,500, many of whom gave a standing ovation, and at millions of television audiences worldwide.
The call to free the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped under the Azovstal factory by the Russians served as a grim reminder that the hugely popular and sometimes flamboyant Eurovision Song Contest was being played against the backdrop of a war on the eastern flank of Europe.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave signs that he was watching from Kyiv and supporting the Ukrainian group.
“Indeed, this is not a war, but nevertheless, for us today, any victory is very important,” Zelensky said, according to a presidential statement. “So let’s applaud ours. Glory to Ukraine!”